My advent calendar and some Christmas magic

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Since I’ve been living in Münich for more than five years it’s not possible not noticing that Advent is knocking on the door. Children get the Advent calendar soon, and people tune themselves up onto the holiday’s mood with Christmas fairs, concerts and feasting.

When I’ve made some research about the origin of the Advent calendar I didn’t have to go far because it comes from German Lutherans who, at least as early as the beginning of the 19th century would count down the first 24 days of December physically. Often this meant simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1st. Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle (perhaps the genesis of today’s Advent wreath) or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day.

Now see how does my Advent calendar look like in 2012

1 Dec: I make the wish list together with my children

2 Dec: I light the first candle on the Advent wreath.

3 Dec: We open our own Platzchen (flat cookies or biscuits) baker shop! We make macarons, vanilla kipferl, lebkuchen-gingerbread! The advantage is they stay fresh until Christmas!

4 Dec: Barbara twig’s day. Although Barbara is not a fashionable German name anymore, the custom of Barbara twig (zweig in German) is still popular in Germany, particularly in Catholic regions. To honour of the patron saint of miners, artillerymen and firemen a small cherry branch or sprig is cut off and placed in water on that day (St. Barbara’s Day). Sometimes a twig from some other flowering plant or tree may be used: apple, forsythia, plum, lilac. But it is the cherry tree that is most customary and authentic. If all goes well, on Christmas day the sprig will display blossoms. If it blooms precisely on December 25th, this is regarded as a particularly good sign for the future.

5 Dec: Mistletoe’s day. According to ancient Christmas tradition, a man and a woman who met under a mistletoe were obliged to kiss (the custom may be of Scandinavian origin) and this custom still goes on. Beside of that kissing stuff the forever green mistletoe is one of the most favorable Xmas decoration in Germany. 

6 Dec: St Nicolaus day. Everyone knows that he was originally a Greek Bishop of Myra in the 4th-century. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas (itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”). From the 15th century his reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints.

7 Dec: Giftpapers painting, coloring etc.

8 Dec: Xmas cards writing day

9 Dec: On the second weekend of advent I give a pause for myself. I will probably go out with friends to a cafe and will discover some new delicious cake from the offer.

10 Dec: I’ll visit-meet friends 

11 Dec: I’ll make Christmas ornaments of straw, paper, pearl, nuts etc. and I’ll dress up the windows. This is a kind of obligatory Xmas program.

12 Dec: concert’s day. Evening there is a Christmas oratorium in closter Schaftlarn but during the day I will hit the town with my family in order to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere in the Middle-Ages city. (Mittel Alt Stadt)

13 Dec: The day is dedicated to Saint Lucy. Its modern day celebration is generally associated with Sweden and Norway where girls dressed as angelic Christ children, handing out Christmas presents. The oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter can wear the candle-wreath. The traditional bun, Lussekatt (“St. Lucia Bun”) is made with saffron.

In Hungary we call the day Luca-Lucy’s seat which is one of the most interesting of the Christmas Day festivities (In English speaking countries’ inherent evil’s day has also held on this day). The Luca seat’s preparation is launched on 13 December and one must make it from nine different twigs of trees. Then the seat is made up to 13 days so that each day is only one operation can be performed on it, hence the popular saying goes that “slowly made ​​like the Luca chair” .

14 Dec: Nature calls! Inspite the cold weather a walk will do a lot good to you while nature is the best sress reliever. Breath in and out.

15 Dec: Glüchwein, Schupfnudeln and sweet waffle’s time. Negus, rolled finger noodles and waffle’s cheer us up. Evening I will participate on “The most beautiful Christmas choirs”‘s concert in the castle Nymphenburg.

16 Dec: Storyteller day. I am invited to a flower shop where the topic will be the fairies by the Grimm brothers. Evening I will light the third candle on the advent wreath and read fairies to my daughters, or we will watch some nice children movie such as Happily ever after or Golden compass.

17 Dec: We’ll make the wish tree

18 Dec: I will make the shopping list, (be aware of it that Xmas Eve falls on Monday this year).

19 Dec: I’ll make the nice punch the German Fire bowl out of the steel (0,4 l Apple juice, 1 sugar-loaf, two teaspoons of cinnamon, Sangria or red wine and rum then put on fire!..Mmm)

20 Dec: Christmas party at workplace!

21 Dec: Sport day. The first snow usually falls down onto the end of December so it’s time for winter sports, sledging, snowboarding in the Alps are among our favorite pastime’s sports

22 Dec: Chamber music I will sing!

23 Dec: Travelling to Belgium

24 Dec: Xmas Eve. The big day will set in. In the morning I will decorate the Xmas tree then I will speed up…

I wish all of you a jolly, happy Xmas!

The German city of Dresden has a giant calendar built into a fairytale castle on its Christmas market, the Striezelmarkt. Similarly, the German town of Uslar uses the windows of its town hall as a giant advent calendar.

How will my Halloween coctail buffet look like?

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Don’t let the junior set have all the fun on All Hallow’s Eve. Grown-ups should have a wicked good time too. With that in mind, I ‘ll skip the tricks and ‘ll go straight for the treats with a sophisticated party for 20. As a macabre twist on the usual costume attire, why not ask guests to come in the outfit they’d like to be buried in? Then strategically I’ll scatter some rubber spiders and snakes and ‘ll serve up orange satin cosmos and devilishly tasty buffet. I hope my guests will be positively bewitched.

The menu

Orange snacks: toasted orange pecans, black and orange caviar toasts, sweet potato chips

Coctail buffet: mustard-crusted mini lamb chops, autumn salad, wild rice with almonds, artichokes and grapes

Dessert: mini carrot cupcakes and of course funny Halloween candies

Setting the scene- the décor: of course orange palette. Near the front door, I’ll create a lantern garden to welcome guests by dangling paper lanterns on fishing line at multiple levels. I ‘ll clear away unnecessary furniture. I’ll make bouquets of rust and mango coloured calla lilies for instance, the stems with raffia, I will scatter orange votive holders.

The menu: I’ll set out bowls of chocolate espresso beans, orange M&M, candied mango, orange pecans, sweet potato chips, and a tray of toasts points with créme fraiche and black and red caviar. I’l set up a self serve bar. The buffet menu will include ready-made tamales, so that guests can simply untie the husks and eat the filling topped with some ready made salsa. I think my mini lamb chops, wild rice and the autumn salad will be also easy to eat.

The music: Michael Jackson Thriller CD, Siouxsie&the Banshees, the Cramps and Bauhaus (Bela Lugosi’s Dead) The Monster Mash, I put a spell on you (my fav film was Beth Middler, Sarah Jessica Parker from the Hocus pocus) Dusty Springfield’s Spooky

Recipes-Mustard crusted mini lamb chops for 20

Ingredients: 5 cups fresh bread crumbs, 1/2 cup mixed chopped parsley, thyme, oregano, 5 large cloves of garlic, minced, 10 racks (6-7 bones) baby lamb chops, trimmed, salt and pepper, 5 tbsp olive oil, 5 tbsp unsalted butter, 10 tbsp mustard

Heat oven 450 F. In bowl combine bread crumbs, herbs, garlic. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter in skillet over medium heat. Workingin batches add oil and butter as necessary, sear racks on all sides, let sit 4-5 min. Spread 1 tbsp mustard on each, press bread crumb coating over meaty side of lamb. Roast on baking sheet 15-18 min. for medium -rare. Let sit 5-10 min. before carving.

Wild rice with almonds, atrichokes and grapes

10 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, 4 1/2 cups wild rice, 6 1/4 cups chicken broth, 3 cans artichoke hearts, drained and diced, 3 cups small, seedless, green grapes, 1 1/2 cups toasted silvered almonds, salt and pepper to taste

In large skillet melt 5 tbs butter over medium-high heat. Add rice, toss to coat. Add broth, increase heat and bring to oil. Reduce heat, simmer, covered, 50 min. or until rice is cooked through and liquid is gone. Meanwhile heat remaining butter in separate large skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichokes and grapes, sauté until hot. Add to rice along with almonds. Season with salt and pepper, stir well.

Mini carrot cupcakes for 12

Ingredients: 2 oz white chocolate, 1 pkg cream cheesem 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 2 tbsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tbsp orange extract, 4 cups confectioner sugar, 2 tbsp heavy cream, 2 eggs, 11/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups shredded carrots, (pineapple) 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 1/4 tsp baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ginger

Heat oven to 350 F. In small saucepan melt white chocolate over low heat. Stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature. In bowl beat together cream cheese and butter. mix in white chocolate, 1 tsp vanilla extract and all orange extract. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar. mix in heavy cream. In large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar and mix in oil and 1 tsp of vanilla. fold in carrots and pineapple. In separate bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg  and ginger. Mix flour mixture into carrot mixture. transfer to greased muffin cups and bake 25 min. Cool completely before topping with icing. Garnish with plastic spiders.

Walpurgis night, May day and fancy fair all together in Germany

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Walpurgis night is a traditional spring festival from 30 of April to 1st of May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. It is often celebrated with dancing and with bonfires. It is exactly six months from All Hallows’ Eve.

The origin of Walpurgis

The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (ca. 710–777/9). As Walburga was canonized on 1st of May (ca. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars. Nowadays the eve of May day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, and with bonfire came to be known as Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurga’s night”).

In Germany

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night on 30 of April, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the top of the Brocken mountain and await the arrival of spring…

According to Jacob Grimm, the great storyteller, the witches gathered at the top of the Brockenberg which is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It was a perfect place for spells and miracles because the mountain is/was noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre (ghost) and therefore for witches’ revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis’s night. Scientificaly the Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called “Easter fires”.

In rural parts of southern Germany, it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks (trick or treat) such as tampering with neighbor’s gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property.

In Berlin, traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark and in Prenzlauer Berg. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg, though in both cases, the situation has significantly calmed down in the past few years.

Maypole erection and dancing under the May tree

Maypole which is a decorated tree or tree trunk that is usually erected either on 1st of May – in Baden and Swabia – or on the evening before, for example, in East Frisia. In most areas, especially in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Austria, it is usual to have a ceremony to erect the maypole on the village green. The custom of combining it with a village or town festival, that usually takes place on 1st of May or at Pentecost (Whitsun), is widespread. This tradition is especially strong in the villages of the Bavarian Alps where the raising of the traditional maypole on 1st of May in the village square is a cause for much celebration. The custom is going back to the 16th century. The pole is usually painted in the Bavarian colours of white and blue and decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry. Just before the Maibaum is erected, depending on the region, there is a procession through the village, usually ending up at a central place and/or restaurant and usually watched by crowds of spectators and accompanied by a brass band. The actual installation of the tree then takes place in the afternoon or evening. While the crowds usually while away the time drinking beer and eating sausages, the young men busy themselves with decorating the maypole to get the symbols of various trades representing the region into the right position. Whilst the maypole is traditionally set up with the help of long poles, today it may sometime also be done using tractors, forklifts or even cranes. If the tree is erected on the eve of 1st of May, then the event is usually followed by a May dance (Tanz unten den Maibaum).

Depending on local custom, the Maibaum may remain in place until the end of the month and then it is taken down, decorations removed and the trunk stored until the following year. In many parts of Bavaria it remains in place all year round.

On the night of the last day of April, many young men erect small decorated “Maibäume” in front of the houses of their sweethearts. Some attach a red heart with the name of the girl written on it to the tree.


Auer Dult from 30 of April to 6 of May

After Walpurgis night we hit the town and participated at the Auer Dult. It is organized three times a year when Münich city invites everyone to the “Dult”, to a traditional fair and market. Then the Mariahilf Square buzzes nine days long with people strolling and looking for special collectible items, eating and drinking, laughing and shopping. The Auer Dult offers traditional merry-go-round just like handmade pottery or herbs for your good pot of tea – a market like a children´s fairy tale…

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Fire-tongs bowl party

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Yesterday we had a Christmas party in the university and of course the highlight was, as it is always in winter time in Germany, the famous Feuerzangenbowle-the Fire-tongs punch. 

The popularity of this drink has been boosted by the 1944 German film comedy Die Feuerzangenbowle. In that historical time it was a traditional drink of some fraternities who also called it Krambambuli as the red colour was reminiscent of an eponymous cherry liqueur from Danzig. Since the 1980s, the movie has gained cult film status at many German universities. During party-like showings in university auditoriums in early December, students bring props to participate in the movie’s action similar to audience participation in showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For example, the audience will ring alarm-clocks whenever an alarm-clock rings in the movie and use flashlights when in the movie Hans Pfeiffer uses a pocket mirror to pinpoint the location of the Goths on a map behind the teacher’s back in order to help a fellow student in history class. In 2006, more than 10,000 students participated in this tradition in Göttingen alone but here in Münich the fire-tongs punch stands are open every day until next year.

The procedure

The fire-tong punch is prepared in a bowl, which is set on fire and drips into mulled wine (a red wine combined with spices and it is served warm). The procedure is similar to a fondue set, because Feuerzangenbowle is also prepared in a bowl, which is usually suspended over a small burner (rechaud). The bowl is filled with heated dry red wine spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel, similar to mulled wine. The Feuerzange was originally a pair of tongs, but nowadays it is common for a purpose-designed metal grate mounted on top of the bowl to hold the Zuckerhut (sugarloaf or literally “sugar hat”), a sugar cone around seven inches long. The sugar is soaked with rum and set alight, melting and caramelizing. The rum should have at least 54% alcohol per volume in order to burn properly. More rum is poured with a ladle until all the sugar has melted and mixed with the wine. The resulting punch is served in mugs while the burner keeps the bowl warm. For some the ceremony is more important than the drink itself, celebrating the gathering of friends and conveying a notion of mellow-Gemütlichkeit.